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From Japanese Oddities to Objects of Desire

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#1 DahlEd


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Posted 29 July 2004 - 08:01 AM

"From Japanese Oddities to Objects of Desire"

An article by John Matras in The New York Times, July 26, 2004

Looking back back at the first Datsun trucks and Toyota sedans to arrive in the United States in the late 1950's, it is easy to see why purists bristled at any suggestion that these ungainly Japanese "rice burners" might be collectible some day.

Perhaps the limited-production Toyota 2000GT sports coupe, which appeared as a convertible in the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice," or the two-seat Cosmo 110S, the first rotary-engine production model from Mazda, would catch the fancy of enthusiasts despite the cars' lack of heritage.

But the earliest of the mainstream import models -- awkward designs like the Toyota Toyopet sedan and the boxy Honda N600 -- were ill-suited to the American market and hardly memorable. Certainly they offered scant evidence that Japanese automakers would one day rival Detroit's giants.

But anyone who bought and kept a Toyota 2000GT would have made a wise investment. The car sold in the late 1960's for about $7,200. According to a National Automobile Dealers Association appraisal guide, an example in prime condition is worth about $130,000 today. And the Datsun 240Z, which almost single-handedly changed Americans' minds about Japan's ability to build a credible sports car, can now bring more than $15,000, versus an original price of $3,526. Even a modest Toyopet sedan commands nearly twice its original $1,995 selling price.

For less noteworthy models, though, many traditionalists still sniff, turn their backs and return to their Ferraris or Duesenbergs.

Not so fast, said Carlyn Dinkler, of Mint Hill, N.C., the owner of a 1968 Toyota Corona and a member of the Toyota Owners and Restorers Club. The club holds an annual gathering in Southern California that attracts members from all over the United States.

Mr. Dinkler says that people collect and restore early Japanese cars for the same reasons that they collect and restore any other automobile: many remember the cars from their youth. For baby boomers, a Japanese model might well have been their first new car. And then there are practical reasons. "They're cheaper than Ferraris," Mr. Dinkler said.

Indeed, according to the dealer's association appraisal guide, a late 60's Corona in prime condition is worth about $2,000. Mr. Dinkler has seen exchanges at $5,000, which he says is still reasonable.

He says he does not believe that people collect Japanese models because of their historical significance.

This would agree with the experience of Ed Parsil, a Subaru 360 enthusiast in Tucson, Ariz., and a founding member of the Subaru 360 Drivers' Club. Mr. Parsil is aware of that car's connection to Malcolm Bricklin, who began importing the air-cooled, two-cylinder Subarus in the late 1960's and went on to ventures that included building the short-lived Bricklin sports car and importing the Yugo. But that is not the reason for his enthusiasm for old Subarus.

Get Mr. Parsil started and he will regale you with stories about the practicality and reliability of his Subaru 360 van, which he found abandoned in a weed patch. He rescued the orphan and restored it, beginning a 30-year love affair with the model, which was named for its tiny 360-cubic-centimeter engine. When he retired, he drove the van from New Jersey to Tucson at 55 miles an hour, the speed limit at the time, with no problems. Since then has had no breakdowns more serious than a flat tire.

Collectors join owners' clubs to share common interests, but groups devoted to old Japanese cars have another attraction -- access to parts. Doug Meis, a lawyer in Winston-Salem, N.C., races a Honda S800 roadster -- there was also a coupe -- from the 1960's. Over the years, he has built up a supply of spare parts. "Parts are very difficult to find, and harder and harder to come by," he said. "Especially crankshafts."

Another problem, Mr. Parsil said, is that no one thought the cars would ever have value. They were usually scrapped and crushed. A parts book or service manual is a treasure; "new old stock" parts, or unused spares from the time the vehicle was made, usually still in their original packaging, are worth their weight in platinum.

Mr. Dinkler, the Toyota Corona owner, said that plastic parts were especially hard to find. A company in Australia has developed a process for making parts like taillamp lenses at reasonable cost.

Of course, tracking down such items is part of the fun -- an accomplishment that people who restore Mustangs or Bel Airs, for which reproduction parts are widely available, cannot savor. The friendships formed by the common effort, and the joy of discovery when a missing part is found, add to the sense of achievement.

One cannot blame owners of vintage Japanese autos for feeling a bit smug when spectators at an auto show walk past a valuable American classic to admire a Japanese car they once knew. Or, as Mr. Meis has witnessed, when people are attracted to that cute little car that is the only one of its kind on the premises. In the world of car collecting, such exclusivity usually comes at a far higher price.


"Spinning 'Rice Burners' Into Gold."

From The New York Times, July 26, 2004

Here are some Japanese vehicles in the collector market and their current prices, based on the National Automobile Dealers Association's "high" value for each car:

DATSUN: 1958-62 Fairlady convertible, $5,925-$6,475; 1962-65 1500 roadster, $5,875-$7,150; 1966-69 1600 roadster, $7,050-$7,550; 1967-69 2000 roadster, $7,900-$9,500; 1970-73 240Z coupe, $13,700-$15,600; 1968-73 510 sedan, $2,200-$3,275; 1964-73 half-ton pickup, $1,100-$1,450.

HONDA: 1964-66 S600 roadster , $10,550; 1967-70 S800 coupe and roadster, $9,550-$11,050; 1969-71 N600 sedan, $6,850-$8,000.

MAZDA: 1971-72 R-100 coupe, $3,025-$3,100; 1971-74 RX-2 sedan, $1,850-$2,000; 1972-78 RX-3 sedan, $1,775-$2,650.

SUBARU: 1968-70 360 sedan, van and Young sedan $5,225-$6,475.

TOYOTA: 1967-70 2000GT sports coupe, $130,000; 1966-69 S800 coupe, $10,600; 1967-70 Corona coupe and sedan, $2,000-$2,150; 1971-1977 Celica sporty coupe, $1,275-$1,800; 1959-64 Toyopet sedan, $3,350-$3,650; 1969-70 Hi-Lux pickup, $2,725-$2,875; 1965-70 Land Cruiser, $6,000-$6,400.

#2 mcbrat


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Posted 29 July 2004 - 09:36 AM

thanks Ed! that's a neat article.....

#3 75skunkaroo


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Posted 29 July 2004 - 02:55 PM

makes me wonder if that 510 style wagon i found is worth getting after all
thanks for a cool article


#4 Qman


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Posted 29 July 2004 - 03:59 PM

Cool article but not totally accurate. According the Ed Parsil, he was misquoted on several instances. I believe the writer embelished and dramatized alot.

#5 Hondasucks


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Posted 30 July 2004 - 06:18 PM

2000GTs were perty cool, predecessor to the Celica Supra if I remember correctly.. 510s are worth $$$.. If it's in decent shape, fix it up, if it's not worth fixing up, part it out. For example, 68-69 "bullet" marker lights can fetch up to $100 for a complete set. 68s are the rarest, since they only made them for like 8 months before they switched to the 69 model year, which had some slight differences. One dead giveaway of a 68 is if it has a finned valve cover (Has 8 or 9 fins in the front, over the timing sprocket)

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